On Sept. 11, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) revoked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) party membership. As a consequence, Wang may be stripped of his status both as legislator-at-large and as legislative speaker. However, the Taipei District Court on Sept. 13 ruled in favor of Wang’s provisional injunction seeking to retain his membership.
By comparison, the German federal court believes that even if a party revokes the membership of a legislator-at-large, that legislator will not lose their status as a lawmaker and they can continue to perform their duties as an independent.
This makes it clear that the claim that a legislator-at-large will lose their legislative seat and even their status as legislative speaker if their party membership is revoked is not necessarily accurate. The long-term goal for legislative reform should be to make the speakership a position of impartiality. To do this, the law should be amended to demand that a legislative speaker withdraw from their party in order to remain neutral.
A legislative speaker should always remain neutral. The UN secretary-general, for example, is elected from among diplomats from neutral states, so that they can remain neutral when handling UN affairs. Similarly, a legislative speaker’s job is to maintain order on the legislative floor, and the speaker should have no concrete power to participate in the operations of the legislature.
Because of this, the post is normally a symbolic one in other countries. Yet in Taiwan, legislative speakers do not have to withdraw from their party after being elected, and they can continue to participate in legislative operations without any separation between party and government. This could hinder the legislature from performing its duties in a rational manner and keep it from remaining neutral.
In any democratic country, parties are seen as a means, while the goal is to rule the nation. Therefore, the ultimate goal of a party is to win public support in order to be able to gain power. Once it has gained power, it has to respect mainstream opinion in order to maintain its advantage and stay in power.
If it moves in the opposite direction to public opinion and places its own goals above the nation’s will, so that the party overrides public opinion — intervening with appointments of government personnel and policy implementation — that would be tantamount to a party directing the government. This is the source of chaos in a democratic society: a group of people external to the government system blocking or even hurting government operations.
The anti-democratic nature of such practices is obvious. It is thus evident that a party leading the government is both illegitimate and illegal.
Directly elected representatives are required to follow the will of their constituencies, not the opinion of their parties. However, most parties excessively manipulate their representatives, making it hard for them to fully reflect public opinion. Since they have to follow the orders of their parties, they often oppose issues for the sake of opposition, which in the end will lead to public condemnation.
In some countries with a cabinet system, legislative speakers withdraw from their own parties once they are elected, in order to remain neutral and keep a distance from party affairs. They gain a higher status because they devote themselves to legislative operations alone. Speaker impartiality is an option well worth considering.
Tseng Chao-chang is a former chairman of the Taiwan Bar Association.
Translated by Eddy Chang